Carbon Monoxide Testing for Homes, Offices, and Buildings

Carbon monoxide, also called the “silent killer,” kills more than 430 Americans and brings above 50,000 Americans to the emergency room every year.

It is an air pollutant that exists in our surroundings 24/7. It does not produce ill effects if it is in low concentrations in the air. However, it can kill a person within a few minutes when they get exposed to its higher concentration.

That is why carbon monoxide testing should be done occasionally to ensure you breathe in safe air – that’s free of high carbon monoxide levels.

Here we have talked about carbon monoxide testing in detail, so you can understand why, when, and where it should be done.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide, CO, is a colorless, tasteless, and odorless gas that can kill you silently when inhaled in a high concentration. It is generally formed when fuels are not completely burned.

During a normal combustion reaction, fuel reacts with oxygen, forming carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O). On the other hand, when there is no sufficient oxygen available in the atmosphere, incomplete burning of fuel occurs. As a result, carbon monoxide forms in place of carbon dioxide.

It is slightly lighter than air, due to which it rises above the floor and tends to mix with the air and spread throughout a room.

Generally, it vents outside through a furnace and does not cause trouble. But, if your ventilation system is not working properly or you keep your windows and doors closed every time, the gas may start accumulating and reach a dangerous level, causing carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

It is a condition that occurs when you inhale higher concentrations of carbon monoxide. CO combines with red blood cells preferentially over oxygen. Resultantly, oxygen fails to bind with red blood cells and reach your tissues and organs that need it to operate.

Carbon monoxide buildup can be more harmful to older people or people who spend most of their time indoors. It is more injurious to people suffering from respiratory or cardiac health issues.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause irreversible damage to the brain and kill a person on the spot even before he realizes what is happening.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), if you get exposed to higher levels of carbon monoxide, the signs of CO poisoning start appearing within 2 hours. But, if a person gets exposed to very high concentrations of the gas, the person can die within 5 minutes.

What are the Symptoms Related to Carbon Monoxide (CO) Exposure?

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning vary from person to person. Here are the most common symptoms that people report.

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Inability to see things clearly
  • Seizures
  • Weakness
  • Shock
  • Hyperactivity

All the occupants of a home, including pets, will experience negative health effects after getting exposed to this poisonous has. It can even harm a fetus (an unborn baby still growing in the womb).

Since carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms resemble the symptoms of flu, you may misdiagnose yourself and think that you have developed flu when in reality, your symptoms are due to the exposure to carbon monoxide gas.

You may be experiencing symptoms due to carbon monoxide exposure and not the flu if:

  • All occupants of a building, including your pets, experience these symptoms.
  • You get better when you come out of your home.

Signs to Look for the Carbon Monoxide Leakage

Although CO is a colorless and odorless gas, you may still be able to detect its high concentrations in your environment if you observe your surroundings carefully. Here are a few signs that indicate CO leakage from a device:

  • Brown stains around the device
  • Condensation in windows installed around the device
  • Smelly air as if something is burning in your home
  • Fallen soot in your fireplace

Where Does Carbon Monoxide Come from?

You can find it in places where fuel is burned. The most common places in homes and buildings are kitchens and garages where CO is found in higher concentrations. It comes from all the fuel-burning devices, including:

  • Gas heater
  • Wood stove
  • Fireplace
  • Clothes dryer
  • Grill
  • Lawn equipment
  • Generator
  • Car, bus, or truck exhaust

Other sources of carbon monoxide are:

  • Leaking furnace
  • Back-drifting from chimney or furnace
  • Tobacco smoke

Since most of these devices are commonly used in homes, offices, warehouses, and buildings, you should keep an eye on your indoor air quality to prevent unfortunate incidents. If you think you are being exposed to carbon monoxide, it is advised to have your indoor air quality tested.

Carbon Monoxide Testing

As the name indicates, it is a form of test performed by indoor air quality inspectors to identify the concentration of carbon monoxide in a space. It tells how much of this poisonous gas is present in parts per million (PPM).

Certified air quality inspectors can use different methods to detect carbon monoxide in a place. Most of them use a gas detector that is different from the regular detectors people install in their homes. These detectors are more sensitive and can detect even minor amounts of gas.

Testing the presence of gas using these detectors is quite simple and does not take much time. The air quality inspector notes down the concentration of carbon monoxide around all the devices that could possibly be releasing the toxic gas.

Later, he prepares a report in which CO levels in your home are compared with the normal CO concentration range. He recommends possible solutions to reducing carbon monoxide concentration in your bundling. For instance, if the cause is the non-functioning HVAC system, you will be asked to contact the HVAC system team and let them get rid of the problem.

Normal Carbon Monoxide Levels in Homes

The normal concentration of carbon monoxide in American households is:

  • In homes that don’t have gas stoves: 0.5 to 5 PPM
  • Homes having gas stoves in good condition: 5 to 15 PPM
  • Homes having poorly adjusted gas stoves: 30 PPM or higher

Exposure Levels of Carbon Monoxide

Long-term exposure to carbon monoxide can affect your health negatively. Here are some standard CO exposure limits recommended by organizations:

  • According to the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA), the personal exposure limit for CO is 50 PPM.
  • According to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the normal limit for CO is 9 PPM for a maximum of 8 hours.
  • According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the exposure limit for employees to CO is 35 PPM.

How Long Does a Carbon Monoxide Detector Take to Go off?

Carbon monoxide detectors are inexpensive devices people should have installed in their homes and offices for safety purposes. A regular carbon monoxide detector detects 45 PPM or higher carbon monoxide. It will go off after:

  • Getting exposed to 50 PPM for 8 hours
  • Getting exposed to 70 PPM for 1 to 4 hours
  • Getting exposed to 150 PPM for 10 to 50 minutes
  • Getting exposed to 400 PPM for 4 to 15 minute

Regular carbon monoxide detectors installed in homes cannot detect low levels of CO. That is why you should get your CO levels checked by professionals who can detect as low as 1 PPM CO in the air.


How long does CO take to leave a building?

High levels of CO can take hours to leave a building fully. If you want to get rid of CO fast, ensure your ventilation system is working properly, and you have all your windows and doors opened properly.

What to do when your CO detector goes off?

If your CO detector has gone off, you should immediately turn the suspected device off and open windows and doors. Call the fire department or indoor air quality inspectors to find the source of CO and resolve the issue.

Where to install CO detectors?

CO is lighter than air. It means it will not stay above the floor; it will mix in the air and spread throughout the room. According to the EPA, people should install a CO detector 5 feet above the ground. It should not be placed near a fuel-burning device. In a multi-story building, a separate CO detector should be used for each floor.

The best place to install a CO detector is the area where you spend most of your time or where you sleep. The alarm of the CO detector should be loud enough to alert all residents of a home.

Can a person survive carbon monoxide poisoning?

It depends on the concentration of the gas in the air. If the levels are not very high and you do not get exposed to them for more than an hour, you can survive the poisoning. If someone around you has been poisoned with this gas, you should immediately seek professional help. Call the Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) or immediately take the person to the emergency room.

The wrap-up

CO testing can save many lives each year if people stop taking CO lightly. The gas is highly poisonous and produces adverse effects on health.

Do you believe CO levels are in your homes or offices? Do you want to protect your employees and loved ones? Don’t hesitate to take the right decision on time. Get your indoor air quality tested by IAQ Environmental experts to ensure your air is free of high CO levels.

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